So someone calls you a bad person on social media or in a political scene. Maybe they make some clear harsh accusation. Maybe they just say something darkly vague and that you deserve to be dissociated from.
What happens next? The church choir joins in, the pile-on begins.
People add their little stories of your little misdeeds, suddenly blown totally out of proportion as Huge and Definite Evidence in this echo chamber environment of your Horrible, Inhuman, and Ejectable Character. This could be done to literally anyone, but especially to people who already stick out for their political activities.
These people who add on their little tales of supporting evidence to the dogpile think they’re doing a good thing. They don’t understand in the moment that actually the entire thing is being engineered by a completely dishonest and manipulative, self-interested and biased faction who have no problem using total lies to pursue their dominance in the political scene.
Half-truths multiplied by half-truths become quarter-truths, eighth-truths, sixteenth-truths, until what began as distortion and exaggeration becomes outright lie.
If they really understood the context they would withdraw their contributions. They would retract stating that their little additions were really not anything significant, were out of context, that they only really brought them up because of the general atmosphere created where it seemed like So-and-So Really Was a Bad Person, but now that they realize maybe So-and-So isn’t a bad person, that this whole thing maybe is a farce, they were probably wrong to add their two cents.
Then the atmosphere grows worse and worse, the whisper-down-the-lane of people mishearing or exaggerating what’s being said about you for what they thought were good intentions continues to spiral, people from further and further back in your life encounter this storm as it continues to grow and spread, and potentially all the most private and embarrassing contexts of your life history are dumped into full view, in the most distorted, least favorable way, among the most hostile possible audience. This could be done to anyone.
Again, people might not have share whatever hypothetical past if they realized, hey, this whole storm is all just crap generated by dishonesty at its very beginning. They might take back the way they characterized it.
But by then it’s too late. They’ve already contributed to the firestorm that has completely wrecked someone, creating massive psychological, reputation and possibly career damage. They have taken part in something like a modern stoning, something existing in 2017 that feels like it ought to belong in medieval times.
Withdrawing or retracting at this point would be basically ineffective. The storm has already occurred. The burn has already happened. For the damage to be reversed with a level of virality and contagion equal to the initial damage that took place would require a lot more than one or two of the negative character witnesses retracting.
But anything can happen. What the Internet makes, the Internet can unmake. Who knows? In time, we may even learn maturity.